Would you rather pay for the ambiance or the taste?

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delicious coffee served in Sweet Mae Salong cafe, Northern Thailand

delicious coffee served in Sweet Mae Salong cafe, Northern Thailand

My Marketing lecturer during university taught us that many restaurants can charge a ridiculous amount for food because of the decoration and ambiance. That’s why we chose to drink coffee in Starbucks instead of a coffee stall by the roadside.

And we chose to eat our chicken rice at some air con, tastefully decorated place instead of at the non air con, hot typical Chinese restaurant where the patron next to you is smoking and talking loudly.

After I graduated and started working, my friends and I started patronising air conditioned and tastefully decorated places to have our meals, to catch up and chit chat. Everyone around me had similar taste and lifestyle and we normally had celebration meals at expensive restaurants in KLCC and other posh areas.

Does the food taste much better than those found in hawker stalls?

My honest answer will be no. The so called famous nasi lemak that I had in Madam Kwan’s had too much santan (coconut paste/oil) that’s too tough on my digestive system.

My favourite is the nasi lemak that I brought from a Malay lady in the market for about RM2.50 that comes with delicious curry and squid (sotong)- her curry and chili paste (sambal) are the best and her nasi lemak is not too oily- just the right amount. The lady understood the Chinese taste since most of her customers are Chinese people who buy her nasi lemak.

the heart shaped latte that I was telling you about :)

the heart shaped latte that I was telling you about 🙂

The expensive lattes that I used to buy from Starbucks, Coffee Bean and San Francisco- I could get for a franction of the price in Thailand. In Mae Salong, Northern Thailand, a humble cafe overlooking the lush tea plantations sells latte for more than half the price (Mae Salong is located on the highland, so the cost of items are more expensive) but taste absolutely heavenly- and the latte came in a heartshaped cream 🙂

When I went back for second time, I’ve met a couple: a Taiwanese lady who was married to a Thai man. They had wanted to go back to Taiwan after the holidays in Thailand but as the Suvarnabhumi airport was still closed, they saw no point of taking the connecting flight from Chiang Rai to Bangkok- only to be stuck in Bangkok and not able to fly to Taiwan. So they went back to Sweet Mae Salong cafe to have their favourite coffee- when the lady overheard me speaking to friends in Mandarin, so we all started talking. Oops, sorry for deviating from the topic.

The point that I am trying to stress- how much are we paying for the perceived ambiance?  Picnics and outings or spending quiet afternoons during the weekend at home to chat and catch up are also great but inexpensive ways to spend time with one another.

Beautiful view overlooking Sweet Mae Salong- lattes served at a fraction of the price

Beautiful view overlooking Sweet Mae Salong- lattes served at a fraction of the price

It is now time that we need to hold on to our money and try to put aside as much as possible. Spending about 3 meals a week at an expensive restaurant, especially for the entire family can quickly diminish our funds. It is only our perception of what we need to have- yet how often you notice that those impulse buys that you thought you must have and cost you a bomb that are lying in your closet unworn.

Now that we are moving to periods of uncertainty, we need to be careful with our expenses. On the bright side, we can take this as the opportunity to bring out the creative side of us- learning to achieve more by spending less.

Essentially, we need to realise that happiness is not caused by external factors- it is all within ourselves. If we feel that we are empty and feel incomplete inside, no matter how much we take refuge in that volka, martini, expresso, Malboro, Gucci, Versace, other people- it is only going to provide temporarily relief. It is not a permanent solution- if we want to be free, we have to address the real issue behind.

I reflected on this as I went back to the market to buy some lunch- my chicken rice and iced milk tea. I don’t take iced milk tea often but from all the years that I previously searched for the most delicious cup- it is always in some humble, inconspicuous stall.

If relaxing at the soothing ambiance and picking at salads are great stuff to do, then why we seemed to be much more troubled than the previous generation of folks who only knew hawker and roadside food?

Perhaps, this trying times will be a good time for us to move out of our comfort zone and explore.

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  • Jaffee Yee Sep 5, 2009 Link Reply

    I enjoyed reading what you had to say and especially for Sweet Mae Salong Cafe. I’m a Malaysian born in Penang spent more than 2/3 of my life in HK and Thailand. I built a house in CRai 4 years ago and still live between BKK and CR. I’m now publishing the first coffee table book for CR called THE BEST OF CR. This little cafe is featured in my book along with Le Petit and Parabola that I’m not sure you have been. Next time you’re in CR, do let me know and will love to invite fellow Malaysian to my country home.

  • Yin Teing Sep 7, 2009 Link Reply

    Hi Jaffee,
    Thanks for your sharing- yes, Sweet Mae Salong is a little hidden treasure along the beautiful hillside terrain. Their little cafe mostly spread its reputation through word of mouth. Nope, I have not been to the other 2 cafes you have mentioned.
    It’s good to know another fellow Malaysian is staying in Thailand.

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